Archive for August, 2009

The Most Beautiful Women

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

29 August 2009

Here’s why they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Sarandon's face contains so much tragedy and empathy | Bellucci, on the other hand, is a vision of perfection

Since the new Miss Universe has now been chosen, to extreme worldwide apathy, it’s time to ask the hard question. Who are the most beautiful women in the world, really? A friend and I were discussing this very important issue the other day. This was the list we came up with (with names in no particular order). Don’t laugh. It’s just that we are getting middle-aged.

Dame Judi Dench. Every line on her face spells character. The face glows with honesty, courage and strength. The grey-blue eyes speak of a person who has seen a lot, yet not lost a bit of compassion for any fellow human being. There is something in her that makes you want to hug her, yet be afraid to be on the wrong side of her. All the roles she has played on screen, whether it’s the life-loving diabetic grandmother in Chocolat, the stately Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, or M in the Bond films, are women of grit, spirit and determination. Naturally.

Meryl Streep. Perhaps the only film star of her generation who has not undergone cosmetic surgery to keep age away, and kept getting more beautiful and graceful as she grew older. Maybe true beauty can only be judged when a woman ages and loses none of it. Really beautiful women become even more stunning when their faces get wrinkled. Meryl Streep does not dress up, her eyes radiate some inner luminescence. When she smiles, it’s incandescent. Again, like Dench’s, her face seems to embody a rare goodness and honesty. Even as the hell-hound boss in The Devil Wears Prada, you can’t help but love her.

Susan Sarandon. A face that contains so much tragedy and empathy embedded in every pore. As Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking, the film directed by her actor-husband Tim Robbins, she embodies the Christian virtues of charity and forgiveness as she battles to save the soul of death row inmate Sean Penn. Her eyes, with its long lashes, are possibly the most beautiful in the world. And she is sexy.

Helen Mirren. Her acting talent and stellar performances went unrewarded for far too long before she won the Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth II inThe Queen, a film on the seven days after Princess Diana’s death. Mirren has only herself to blame for this neglect. Quite simply, she appeared nude in too many films early in her career to be taken seriously. In Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, I think she spent a straight hour or so in the raw. But her delicate Russian beauty is enchanting. The moment in The Queen when Elizabeth sees the majestic stag’s head in its killer’s hunting lodge—the expression on her face, the sadness, the humanity—is unforgettable. Whenever The Queen has come up in any conversation I have had, someone has mentioned that scene and that look. Last year, there was a picture in the newspapers of Mirren holidaying on a beach, wearing a bikini. No other 64-year-old in the world, I think, has such an incredible body.

So what is beauty? The list my friend and I came up with seems to have less to do with physical looks, and more with what we perceive in their faces, with the sort of person who sits behind the face, our perception of that person. Frankly, I didn’t find Miss Venezuela, who was crowned Miss Universe last week, beautiful at all. To me, she just looked like a dumb, grinning woman. But then again, I am attributing something to her without hearing her speak and knowing nothing about her. This is unfair, but then, all lists are unfair to some extent or the other. What to do, we are like this only.

But can’t there be anyone on our list who is below 50? Times can’t be that bad, and we can’t be that old, my friend and I thought. So another round of brainstorming. And two names instantly came to mind. Halle Berry and Monica Bellucci. These two ladies are visions of perfection, and Halle Berry’s smile is possibly the most lovely in the world. So.

Undying Memories

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Aug 22, 2009

Isn’t there something just a little probable about life after death?

I once met a man who told me that, as a boy, he could remember bits of his earlier life

Is reincarnation the biggest and most intelligent con pulled on mankind? Hindus have always believed in the cycle of births, as have other eminent people like Henry Ford and General Patton. But I have always been a bit sceptical. It explains away all of life’s injustices in one stroke with an answer that you cannot verify, yet cannot disprove. You did something really bad in your past life, and that’s why you are getting buggered for no apparent reason in this one. It brings peace and acceptance and a stoic outlook. In fact, in this life, you may also be more tempted to be a good person and not hurt other people. Stability is maintained, anger of the poor and the oppressed contained, rebellion and insanity averted. Life goes on.

But the theory of reincarnation also allows people to exploit other people with impunity, even profiteer. A friend of my father’s had a severely disabled child. There are centres all around India which claim to possess ancient manuscripts that trace people’s stories through their various lives. My father accompanied his friend to such a centre in Amritsar. My father’s friend told the man there his story. He listened gravely, then went inside the house. After an hour, he emerged with what looked like an ancient manuscript, written in the Devnagari script, but in a language or dialect that neither my father nor his friend could figure out.

Apparently, the reason for the tragedy my father’s friend was enduring was this: Many years ago, there was a good king. But his son was evil and he connived with the king’s minister to poison his father. The prince had now been reborn as the father and the minister as the disabled son, so both were suffering for the crime they had committed. But God was also forgiveful. At the age of 18 (the boy was then ten or so), he would become well and would then lead a normal life. I cannot bear to describe the hope with which the boy’s parents waited for him to be 18 and well, the despair when nothing at all happened. If there ever was a crime against humanity, it was what that heartless charlatan in Amritsar had committed.

But if reincarnation is a con, how does one explain the rare cases of people who seem to remember their past lives? I don’t know whether such cases have been scientifically investigated and proved, but I myself once met a man who told me that, as a boy, he could remember bits of his earlier life. But, he said, as he grew older, the memories faded, and by the time I met him, he could remember nothing at all. All he had was his parents’ word for it. I believed him, because, one, if he was pulling a stunt, he would not be claiming that he had forgotten everything, and two, he avoided talking about this side of himself as far as possible, and never brought up the topic on his own. So how do I explain that?

Let me try, and you can throw your rotten tomatoes at me freely. All matter, including our bodies, is made of the same building blocks of creation. Even our brains are, which means that at the fundamental level, our memories too are made of the same building blocks. When we die, over time, our bodies are reduced to those building blocks, which, then, would come together to build other, newer things: trees, metals, water, other human bodies.

Now think about it this way. Take an audio CD, crush it into a million pieces, and glue all the pieces back together to form another CD. There is a clear probability—however remote—that when you put together the second CD, some of the pieces that were adjacent to one another in the first CD would find themselves in the same order in the new CD. As a result, a part of one song—however short, maybe just three seconds—would sound exactly the way it sounded on the destroyed CD. That is the memory of past life.

Sounds plausible? Probable? We’ll perhaps never know. That’s the invulnerable beauty of the rebirth theory.